– Several months before the Islamic State (IS) surge in Mosul, a preponderant majority of Lebanon’’s political elite, backed by a rare regional and international consensus, recognized the common threat that IS and its fellow travelers represent and, as a result, coordinated an effective security response built, first, on a new power-sharing agreement and, second, on a recognition that violent Sunni extremist groups are best fought by Sunnis themselves, especially within Lebanon’s borders.
– Had this arrangement not taken hold in March 2014, it is likely that an IS surge in Lebanon post-Mosul – via the Bekka township of Arsal and/or the Northern city of Tripoli – would have significantly fractured the Lebanese state and led to a level of sustained fighting not seen since the end of the Lebanese Civil War in 1990.
– An unprecedented level of US and European intelligence sharing with all Lebanese security agencies – including those perceived as close to the militant Shiite movement #Hezbollah –played and is still playing a significant, positive role in shoring up Lebanon’s security architecture.
– At the same time, these gains are crucially dependent on the continued success of Hezbollah’s military actions along the border and in Syria against violent Sunni extremists – much as Hezbollah is now finding itself dependent on the gains of Lebanon’s security agencies, even those formerly at odds with it.
– The new security symbiosis that has emerged is fragile, with longstanding domestic, regional and international conflicts barely concealed for the moment. A more powerful surge by IS or renewed enmity by any combination of larger geopolitical actors like Iran, Saudi Arabia and the US could overwhelm the local arrangement.
– Building further on what is working now could, if not properly balanced, aid and protect Hezbollah to such an extent that its authoritarian, chauvinistic and violent aspects – at home and abroad – are encouraged and accelerated.
– The most effective way to blunt this outcome and further buffer Lebanon from IS is to provide the quantity and quality of weapons and training that the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) has long requested but which, still to this day, have been denied largely as a result of misplaced and counter-productive concerns regarding any change in the Qualitative Military Edge between Israel and Lebanon. More Hellfire missiles for the LAFs hopelessly outdated (and now outgunned) Cessnas will simply not do.
– Either way, Hezbollah is now playing a starring role in the emerging regional containment strategy for IS, despite its terrorist labeling by some actors.
– As this is happening, attitudes in Beirut are changing on all sides and in an unprecedented fashion: Key Hezbollah officials now say, privately, that the US is a “factor for stability” in Lebanon while key Future movement leaders also now acknowledge, in private, that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will likely have to stay if a durable regional response to IS and #JAH is to be put in place. Both parties are only now, however, beginning the difficult process of preparing their respective constituencies for what would be quite dramatic and politically difficult about-faces.